Today’s correspondent is a paramedic from WA who was

…called to a patient who owned a lovely dog. We entered the house and shut the gate, as instructed, so the dog would stay inside the residence. While treating the patient I went back to the ambulance to retrieve equipment and in doing so, I left the side gate open and the dog escaped. We tried to search for the dog with the patient onboard but could not locate it. I never heard more about this specific case.

I am now curious as to liability and other consequences of a similar case, as it seems an easily reproducible problem. If it were to happen again, who would be liable? Assuming the patient were to pursue the matter through civil means.

Anyone who has pets knows that they are not merely property, but according to law they are.  The relevant law then is the same as if any damage were done to a patient’s property or that property was lost.

First it would be the employer of the paramedic that would be vicariously liable if there is any liability.

Second the question would turn as always on whether the actions were reasonable or not.  Leaving the side gate open when you go to get kit is probably not reasonable, but opening the gate to get the patient on the stretcher to the ambulance whilst all personnel there are working on saving the patient’s life so that there is no-one to secure the dog may be.

As for damages, a pet is irreplaceable- unlike a TV you can’t get another one and it’s just the same. Even so again the law would have trouble assessing damages for the loss of the dog – normal grief is not compensable – so absent the patient developing a recognised mental illness the damages would be the cost of another dog.  If the lost dog was a purebred breeding animal earning a large income the damages too would be large.  But if it was a rescue dog from the local pound, the damages would be no more than the cost of going to the pound and getting another one.


The fact that the lost ‘property’ was a dog doesn’t change any of the legal principles.  If the loss was caused by the negligence of a paramedic in the performance of his or her duties the patient/owner could seek damages for that loss from the paramedic’s employer.